Throughout the years I spent intertwined with my eating disorder, food held more power over me than any other element of my life. It dictated my social life, my mood, and my entire sense of self. During treatment, I assumed that facing “fear foods” and talking about my feelings around challenging meals was meant to take away food’s power. I thought that recovery meant reaching a point at which food has no influence in my life whatsoever.
Like many of my expectations about recovery, I was wrong about this one. Instead of being a reason for disengagement and social isolation, food has become a tool for exploring the world and connecting with others. The harder I fight against my eating disorder, the more food serves to strengthen my recovery and enrich my life. It has power, but in a very different way.
In the throes of my eating disorder, I began creating elaborate and tediously constructed meals for my friends and family. I now know this behavior was a natural biological response to starvation. But I think it was more than biological for me. Feeding others was my unconscious way of feeling connected to a world that would remain foreign to me as long as I held on to my eating disorder. I was missing out on the world of joyful eating.
As I gradually untangled my appetite from the grasp of the eating disorder, I discovered my passion for experimenting with flavor trying new foods with others. Food and eating now have the power to enrich my relationships. I collaborate with my mom over which spices will make the perfect marinade for a night’s dinner. I tweak nearly every recipe I make to make it my own. I get to try things I would never think to create when others cook for me.
A therapist at the Emily Program once told me she thought that eating was a truly intimate human experience. Every person’s food preferences are unique to them. Cooking and eating a meal with someone else is like sharing a little part of my soul with them.
The next time you share a meal with someone, think about all the things you are sharing besides calories. Just like the body needs food to live, your soul needs connection with others to thrive. Recovery requires nourishing both body and soul, and I think there is something truly powerful about being able to do both at once.
-written by Maia Polson